If you’re going to enjoy yourself, why not get some studying in there too?
Japanese Name: ファイナルファンタジーXV
English Name: Final Fantasy XV
Platform: PS4, Xbox One
Worldwide Languages: Japanese, English, French, German, Italian*, Spanish*, Latin American Spanish*, Russian*, Brazilian Portuguese*
Release Date: November 29, 2016
Recommended For: Intermediate-Advanced
Best Suited: Intermediate
*Limited to text
Final Fantasy was a big name in video games in the late 80s, and only grew in popularity during the 90s. The 2000s were marked with what some saw as a bit of a downturn in the series, and more than a few fans consider the last good Final Fantasy (FF) to be IX, which came out in mid-to-late 2000, depending on where you lived. Even that game was divisive. FFX made new fans and put off old ones. FFXI was a departure from the single-player games of yore. FFXII took the series in a new direction and FFXIII was seen by most as a failure. With the initial release of FFXIV in late 2010, calling Final Fantasy a “dying series” was no longer met with incredulity.
And then comes Final Fantasy XV. Announced as Final Fantasy Versus XIII before the main FFXIII released, and promising action-RPG gameplay headed by Tetsuya Nomura of Kingdom Heart’s fame, hype for the game built almost immediately. 10 years of presumably off-and-on development time, a name change, a story rewrite, and a lot of doubt that it would ever release… until it finally did.
It’s playable. And it’s good.
FFXV begins as a road-trip, open-world RPG about four friends on the way to the main character’s wedding. The game bills itself as being based in reality, and it succeeds in being more down-to-earth than any previous Final Fantasy game. That doesn’t mean that monsters and magic don’t exist–they do. In fact, the game becomes progressively more fantastical as it goes. From pushing a broken-down car to meditating in a crystal, the game manages to be both solidly realistic and properly outlandish. In spite of this, the world feels cohesive and whole, perhaps because most of the game’s lore seems to be left out of the game, only implied.
It’s hard to talk about the story without mentioning the pacing. The first half, even after a relatively climatic event, feels lackadaisical. Go to point A at your own pace, fight a monster, talk to some people, rest in a hotel, go to point B. While many RPGs have this way of moving, a so-called “let me do one more unimportant sidequest while the world ends” feeling, it seems slightly more odd in FFXV due to the open world. Whereas older FF games have only one or two options before moving on with the plot, you have a lot of freedom to take this game slow.
Until the second half of the game. When the story is basically on a single track, with little freedom and a lot more emotional investment. Even though I mentioned a cohesive world, the game does feel split down the middle. The open-world style of the game is more enjoyable, but the single-track second-half of the game is where the game’s story shines. It’s almost as if the designers wanted to do an open world but also wanted to tell a focused story, and decided to just do both, but totally separate from each other.
That doesn’t mean the story completely succeeds. While the ending is worth seeing, the game seems to leave some characters and situations half-explained. It reminded me of Xenogears, where the second half of the game was still good and led to an amazing ending, but it felt like the designers needed a little more time and money to do exactly what they wanted. Regardless, the story and setting are worth diving into.
Graphics-wise, is there anything to say? It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful even when randomly exploring, with sun shining through the trees and monsters grazing in the distance, odd rock formations towering high above you. While the camera can be rough in closed-quarters, and some of the dungeons feel uninspired (especially the post-game cloisters), there’s little chance any player would leave the game feeling like they didn’t just witness something beautiful.
Music? If you don’t like Yoko Shimomura’s light orchestral riffs while wandering or her dramatic choral fight music, then I suppose you’ll be disappointed. Sometimes it might sound a little too much like her work in Kingdom Hearts, but that’s hardly criticism. Never mind the fact that you can listen to old Final Fantasy soundtracks while driving around and, eventually, when walking. After a hundred hours playing I was yearning for a few more vocal tracks to listen to in the car, but your mileage may vary (pun intended).
Perhaps the most important part of the game, and the whole reason to play the game at all… the upgrade system. Sorry, the battle system. The combat in FFXV is fast-paced and rarely gets old. While you only control the main character, and issue commands to your party members, there is a lot going on. Moving around to get in a back attack, or trying to accomplish one of your party member’s combat requests to gain some AP, or seeing the guard button flash on the screen to block an incoming attack, there always seems to be something to watch out for. Compared to other RPGs, you’ll probably won’t be saving potions and elixirs for the end of the game, given how numerous and useful they are. What makes the aesthetically-boring post-game dungeons bearable is the combat, where magic becomes necessary against flans and good use of dodging and counterattacks means the difference of life-and-death with tonberries. The warp strike ability, which lets you fly right into the nearest enemy means that you’re never too far away from the action.
The single complaint with the combat lies in the combat range, as occasionally warp striking or even getting hit in the wrong place will finish the combat encounter before it was over, requiring you to run back to the enemy and start again. The map shows an exact red circle or square where the range exists, but it can still be problematic when moving around quickly with warp strike.
Overall, FFXV is a definite return-to-form for Final Fantasy. It’s worth it for the combat alone, but whoever sticks around for the story and exploration shouldn’t be disappointed.
Game itself: 9/10
There’s been a few games in the past year that have been good study tools, like 幻影異聞録＃FE and いけにえと雪のセツナ. But, both games had problems, not the least of which was that you needed to buy the Japanese game to study the language.
Not so with FFXV. Buy the American version. Buy the European version.
All versions come with Japanese vocal and subtitle support.
For learners, this is a godsend. Like Pokemon, this game can be bought and played in Japanese regardless of where you get the game. It’s not just the voice overs as well. The game’s text, menus… everything can look just like it does to the Japanese creators.
That doesn’t mean perfection in language-study however. It’s worth knowing that the game is aimed towards native Japanese-speaking adults. That means there are odd words that even Japanese people don’t often use. I mentioned before some words I’d learned while playing, and some like 謳歌, 万物, 積年, and へっぴり腰 don’t feel particularly useful. The text is definitely aimed for a pretty high level, including quest descriptions, and the things some characters say, like anime, aren’t said by most living Japanese people.
Not only that, but the font requires getting used to if you haven’t read that style of Japanese font before. And without any options for furigana, odd words can only be looked up manually. Which means a lot of paused screens since most text moves automatically. Unfortunately, this is impossible when characters ask questions and you have a limited amount of time to respond to them. While most requests are pretty simple and inconsequential, being able to meaningfully respond requires some knowledge of what’s going on. Compared to something like Yokai Watch or any game by Level 5, FFXV needs an intermediate level to be worthwhile.
The fact that the game is voiced does huge favors. And the fact that the characters are so chatty when moving around means that you’ll constantly be listening to them and learning. Both in and out of combat.
How many times have I heard Ignis shout 「油断したな、ノクト」 and Noctis shout back 「うっせぇな」? Or Prompto asking 「何か写真のリクエスト撮ってほしくない？」 while driving? Or Noctis apologizing to Gladio for not being able to camp that night and instead going to a hotel. These little bits and phrases get constantly uttered and, over the course of the game, imprinted into your brain. The repetition, combined with how buddy-buddy the interactions get, make for dialogue you want to listen to and remember.
Take a look at this random YouTube video of a mini-quest. If you understand 50% or more of what people are saying, I’d give this game my whole recommendation for language study.
Worst comes to worst, you can also switch language midway through the game. Just requires a reload.
Language learning: 8/10
-Any version of the game, regardless of region, has Japanese voice and text!
-Ability to change language options midway
-Advanced dialogue for intermediate-to-advanced learners
-Repetitious spoken VO banter between characters great for learning new words
-Understanding what’s said is not necessary to beat the game, but helps
-Font choice and lack of furigana may be difficult even for intermediate learners
FFXV is both a good game and good tool for learning Japanese. With a flood of spoken words and a world to get immersed in at your own pace, FFXV is a good use of your time, especially if you’re an intermediate or advanced Japanese learner.